The Early Edition: October 25, 2017

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

SYRIA

Russia vetoed a U.S.-resolution renewing the U.N. panel investigating chemical weapons use in Syria yesterday, Russia saying that the vote extending the Joint Investigative Mechanism should be delayed until it releases its report, due later this week, into the April 4 attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun. Rick Gladstone reports at the New York Times.

Russia’s vote casts doubt on the possibility of holding the perpetrators to account. Western intelligence officials and U.N. investigators assigned responsibility for the attack to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is a close ally of Russia. Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.

Russia has sided with “dictators and terrorists,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, the Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzia responded by accusing the U.S. and others of trying to embarrass Russia. The BBC reports.

“We are disappointed” that Russia put “political considerations over the Syrian people,” the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday about the U.N. vote, Reuters reporting.

At least 5,600 Islamic State group fighters have returned to their home countries as the terrorist group loses territory in Syria and Iraq, according to a report by the U.S.-based think tank the Soufan Center. The BBC reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out one airstrike against Islamic State targets in Syria on October 23. Separately, partner forces conducted four strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

Iraqi federal forces are set to launch an offensive today to retake the remainder of the Islamic State’s territory in Iraq, the military said today, the operation will advance on an area near Iraq’s border with Syria. Reuters reports.

Iraqi federal forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces clashed in northern Iraq yesterday, the Peshmerga claimed that they repelled an Iraqi army attack while Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that the Peshmerga ambushed the soldiers, the clashes demonstrating the increased tension between the two U.S. allies since last month’s controversial Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. David Zucchino reports at the New York Times.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.) today proposed a ceasefire in exchange for freezing the results of the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum and opening dialogue with the central government in Baghdad. Euan McKirdy reports at CNN.

The Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum has led to humiliating territorial losses and worsened the K.R.G.’s ties with the U.S. and Turkey, Philip Issa explains at the AP.

“I choose the Kurds,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) writes at the New York Times, saying that the U.S. owes its allegiance to its longstanding Kurdish allies who have proven to be trusted and capable partners and, if forced to do so, the U.S. should get behind them rather than the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias.

NIGER

Service records of the four U.S. Special Forces members ambush in Niger on Oct. 4 reveal that they had little to no combat experience, the Pentagon saying that, nevertheless, the soldiers underwent high-intensity training before being deployed. Ben Kesling reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Special Forces were pursuing a senior Islamic State militant when they were ambushed, according to anonymous U.S. officials, raising questions about whether the unit received authorization for the pursuit and whether the risks of the operation were assessed. Ken Dilanian, Courtney Kube and Mac William Bishop report at NBC News.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) demanded more information about the Niger ambush in a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis released yesterday, saying that it is “nearly impossible to differentiate between ‘advise and assist’ and combat operations.” Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

PAKISTAN

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Pakistan to eradicate terrorist havens during a meeting with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi yesterday in Pakistan, Abbasi has denied that the havens exist and vowed to work with the U.S. to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan. Saeed Shah reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The U.S. can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror,” Abbasi said yesterday, making the comments in reference to the U.S. belief that Pakistan has supported terrorist groups and provides sanctuaries for terrorists who then launch attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Gardiner Harris reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. and Pakistan have a “huge trust deficit” over the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said yesterday after Tillerson’s visit to Pakistan, blaming the “ineptitude” of U.S. and international forces for failing to end the conflict, but saying that there “is a willingness on both sides to bridge this [trust] deficit.” The BBC reports.

INDIA

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj today to discuss counterterrorism and India’s role in Afghanistan, Swaraj saying that India had agreed to hold talks with Washington and Kabul on the Afghanistan conflict. Muneeza Naqvi and Alex Brandon report at the AP.

Tillerson is scheduled to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today to discuss trade and the U.S.-India relationship in the face of what Tillerson considers to be China’s negative influence in the region. Reuters reports.

The key issues likely to feature during Tillerson’s trip to India are set out by Huizhong Wu and Manveena Suri at CNN.

Tillerson’s speech on U.S.-India relations last week was welcome as it reinforced the global order, emphasis on the rule of law and highlighted the interests shared between the two countries; it marked a significant change from Trump’s muddled foreign policy announcements. Manpreet S. Anand writes at Foreign Policy, hoping that Tillerson’s speech was not an “anomaly.”

NORTH KOREA

Trump’s heightened rhetoric on North Korea has undermined diplomatic efforts, according to U.S. government and congressional officials, a top U.S. diplomat to North Korea also warning of a breakdown of meetings in Washington. Leigh Ann Caldwell and Vivian Salama report at NBC News.

The House passed legislation yesterday blocking North Korea’s access to financial institutions and authorizing cutting off financial assistance to foreign governments that knowingly engage financially with the Pyongyang regime. Cristina Marcos reports at the Hill.

The State Department should relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, a bipartisan group of House Foreign Affairs Committee members said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released yesterday that highlighted the Pyongyang regime’s numerous transgressions. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The U.S. is preparing to send stealth jets to North Korea, a spokesperson for the Pacific Command saying that these deployments “are routine and should not be viewed as aggressive in nature.” David Axe reports at The Daily Beast.

Trump’s trip to Asia next week has the potential to drive home the reality of the threat posed by North Korea and the devastation that would be caused by resorting to military options. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis of the president’s upcoming 12-day visit at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office is conducting an investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort focusing on possible money-laundering, according to sources. The probe is being carried out in collaboration with special counsel Robert Mueller who has been pursuing a wide-ranging investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Erica Ordern and Nicole Hong report at the Wall Street Journal.

The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) paid for part of the research compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, a letter filed in court yesterday revealed, the salacious dossier alleged connections between Trump associates and Russia, and Steele was contracted by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to do the work. Adam Entous, Devlin Barrett and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

The revelation about funding for the dossier is likely to fuel claims that the Trump-Russia investigations are politically motivated, at the time that the Democrats began paying for the research, Trump was on the cusp of being nominated by the Republican Party as the presidential candidate. Kenneth P. Vogel reports at the New York Times.

Focus on the congressional and federal Trump-Russia investigations are more important than details about the source of funds for the dossier, Democratic officials emphasized. Cristiano Lima and Josh Dawsey report at POLITICO.

The disputed dossier could provide the first legal battle for congressional investigations, with Fusion GPS’ attempts to block the House Intelligence Committee’s subpoena raising numerous questions. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

House Republicans have launched a probe into “outstanding questions” yesterday, including the F.B.I. investigation into one of Trump’s associates in the 2016 presidential campaign, whether Obama administration officials spied on Trump’s campaign, whether the Russians helped pay for the Steele dossier and questions about the Obama-era deal where a Russian-owned company bought U.S. uranium supplies. Sarah N. Lynch and Susan Heavey report at Reuters.     

Republicans have no interest in Trump-Russia ties and are keen to pursue their own investigations into the Obama-era uranium deal and focusing on the Obama administration and Democrats more generally. Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman observe at The Daily Beast, highlighting the particular role of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Trump’s personal lawyer and associate Michael Cohen was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee in a private session yesterday about the allegations of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Cohen declined to comment on the nearly six hours of testimony. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

The Kaspersky Lab’s anti-virus software uploaded espionage tools belonging to the National Security Agency and sent them to servers in Moscow, the founder of firm Eugene Kaspersky said earlier this week, saying that the incident was an accident and not done intentionally. Raphael Satter reports at the AP.

A ransomware attack broke out in several European countries yesterday and began spreading to the U.S., the attackers demanded payment from victims via bitcoin. Robert McMillan reports at the Wall Street Journal.

British lawmakers have asked social media companies for information about possible Russian meddling in last year’s referendum to leave the European Union, the head of a Parliamentary inquiry into “fake news” has sent letters to Facebook and Twitter about the issue. David D. Kirkpatrick reports at the New York Times.

The House passed legislation aimed at bolstering the U.S.’s cyber infrastructure yesterday, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

A draft Russian proposal for a U.N. convention on cyberspace has the potential to increase Russia’s influence, David Ignatius sets out the issues posed by the proposal at the Washington Post.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

The State Department announced yesterday that it would end military aid to units in Myanmar involved in operations in the Rakhine State, where the Rohingya Muslim minority have been persecuted, however the measure could have little impact and considering sanctions may not deliver justice. Martin De Bourmont explains at Foreign Policy.

U.S. officials are expected to recommend that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson label the abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar as “ethnic cleansing.” Matthew Pennington reports at the AP.

A delegation from the Turkish Justice Ministry has cancelled a trip to the U.S. amid a diplomatic row between the two countries and deteriorating relations. Ercan Gurses and Dirimcan Barut report at Reuters.  

The U.S. may intervene to help resolve the Gulf crisis, which began on June 5 when Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt and Bahrain isolated Qatar due to its alleged support for terrorism close ties to Iran. Patrick Wintour reports at the Guardian.

The Trump administration’s aggressive approach to Iran does not amount to a specific policy, senior officials and the president offer strong words but little detail about what the administration intends to do to rein in Iran’s influence. Roy Gutman writes at The Daily Beast.

The Trump administration’s Middle East policy demonstrates an “unreality” that does not address what should happen in Syria and Iraq once the Islamic State group has been defeated, does not engage seriously with the Israel-Palestinian process, and has no real conception about Iran’s role in the region. David Gardner writes at the Financial Times.  

The TRAVEL BAN

Trump’s 120-day ban on refugees expired yesterday and applicants from 11 “high risk nations” will face stricter rules as part of additional vetting. The BBC reports.

The Supreme Court yesterday formally dropped plans to hear the case brought by Hawaii over the earlier travel bans which have been expired and replaced by new orders. Lawrence Hurley reports at Reuters.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

“I can guarantee you that this is completely false,” the chief of diplomatic security for Cuba’s Interior Ministry Col. Ramiro Ramirez told NBC News, referring to the U.S. allegations that Cuba has been behind the mysterious symptoms suffered by U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Havana. Andrea Mitchell and Mary Murray report at NBC News.

Draft legislation by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) proposes tough measures against Iran, including re-imposing sanctions if Iran tests a ballistic missile, prompting criticism that such requirements would be in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal. Patricia Zengerle reports at Reuters.

Taliban fighters killed nine Afghan soldiers yesterday in an attack on a security post, the AP reports.

N.A.T.O. will review a new command structure in response to the threat posed by Russia, and is likely to approve the creation of two new commands. Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Stricter security measures for all U.S.-bound flights will take effect tomorrow, David Shepardson reports at Reuters.

A federal judge yesterday upheld the Trump administration’s right to resist publicly disclosing two emails from Hillary Clinton’s private email account that the government says includes classified information about the Benghazi attack in 2012. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would serve the interests of peace and would demonstrate support for the two-state solution, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro writes at the Wall Street Journal.

A delayed a peace deal giving the Philippine’s predominantly Muslim southern region more autonomy has the potential to exacerbate grievances and motivate Islamic State-affiliated militants to launch more attacks. JC Gotinga writes at Al Jazeera. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK